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Full throttle with malfunctioning brakes

FAU researchers find cause and possible treatment method for particularly aggressive leukaemia in children

Cancers in children are always dramatic – especially when the tumours are particularly hard to treat. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now found a possible key to treating a very aggressive type of leukaemia known as MLL leukaemia. The researchers led by Prof. Dr. Robert Slany of the Department of Genetics have been able to show why the blood cells affected by the leukaemia grow uninhibited.

MLL leukaemia is a type of leukaemia that occurs with particular frequency in children. Approximately 80 percent of all cases of leukaemia that occur in children of up to a year in age are of this aggressive subtype. Despite significant general successes in the treatment of leukaemia in children, MLL leukaemia remains one of the big problems in clinical practice. Only about half of the patients are cured. By explaining why the affected blood cells display uninhibited growth, the researchers may be one step closer to finding a treatment for the disease.

The tumour protein responsible for the formation of MLL leukaemia, a mutated protein molecule, stimulates the leukaemia-affected blood cells to produce factors that cause the cells to divide and proliferate at an abnormal speed. In addition, the protein deactivates the natural brakes the cell would normally use to prevent precisely such an overproduction. ‘It’s a little as if someone puts a brick on the gas pedal and cuts the brake lines of a car,’ Professor Slany explains. With the new insights, the researchers hope to be able to develop a potential treatment method that ‘throws a spanner in the cells’ works,’ as Slany says, to bring the processes in the cells back to normal speed.

The FAU researchers’ findings have now been published in the renowned journal Cell Reports. This success was possible thanks to funding provided by the DFG and the newly established Bavarian Research Network for Molecular Biosystems.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Robert Slany
Phone: +49 (0)9131 85 28527
rslany@biologie.uni-erlangen.de

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